White, male, straight, affluent and privately-educated with no disabilities or mental health difficulties, I might well be on some sort of short-list for most privileged person ever. But fate, it seems, had other ideas. Like a poetic form of karmic justic, I — like many of my idiotic, rich, and arrogant peers — spent the summer unsure of just where, or if at all, I’d be living in St Andrews for the coming academic year.
Through a noted tendency for poor organisation and a well-founded yet in-built arrogance unique to those who have come to expect others to always pick up the pieces, up until about a day ago, I was facing the prospect of second-year University not knowing where I was going to live. Without a permanent address to call my own, I was forced to rely on the increasingly strained goodwill of my various well-off (and well-housed) friends, whose kindness and sofas within three minutes’ walk of Rector’s was all that stood between me and a life in Dundee.
Yet, here’s the kicker. My original intuition, it turns out, was in fact right. For just as quickly as my personal crisis came, it went. Through some weird deus ex machina, the estate agents of St Andrews delivered a gem – a two-bedroom house on the three streets.
Of course, I do not wish to underplay the effort required. Finding a house was hard work. I spent hours and hours a day for several weeks trying to find a place to live in St Andrews. I called every estate agent every day. I got to know the estate agents by name and by voice, and they got to know me. At first, they would say nothing was available, that the market was too tight, and there were no flats. But things slowly changed. One-bedroom flats became available, rumblings about student intentions to hand in tenancies were made known to me, and I was informed of newly refurbished properties that landlords intended to introduce to the market at a later date.
On weekends, I made my way through the long list of St Andrews Airbnbs, asking if they would consider renting to a student for the year, for the semester or, later, from the period from early October to December. Again, at first, hard nos came quick and thick. But with persistence, and the sheer quantity of emails and messages sent out, the nos became softer and became maybes. Landlords had family chats, and eventually, one or two said yes.
The speed of success was in one sense terrifying. In the space of about ten days, I went from having no offers for a house to having about ten. To name just a few, I had options on South Street, Hope Street, Kilrymont Crescent, East Sands, Golf Place, and Boase Avenue.
It was odd that I was able to find a property at such short notice when the market is so infamously tight. But what I realised, most importantly, from this is that my ignorance about my class and privilege was astounding. It might still be hard for me to admit, but things do fall into place if you’re white, male, straight and most importantly, your parents are fairly well off.
I am privileged. That’s just a fact. I mean, receiving a St Andrews education grants you a certain level of privilege. But me and a good portion of people at this particular university have an even greater advantage. For I belong to that much-despised group: the English private-school kid. This group tends to be outgoing and confident, brash and exclusionary, and as a result, has an outsized and unfair influence on much of the St Andrews social scene.
The sort of advantages you accrue as someone from this demographic, are undeniably significant but were simultaneously things that I had previously totally taken for granted. Things such as: the ability for a parent to take a day off to come up to St Andrews and bail you out, the fact I had time to spend my summer calling estate agents because I didn’t need to work, the various people someone, somewhere knows who are renting out, plus, of course the ability to pay an extortionate rent. It all meant that, for me, when my dad and I travelled up to St Andrews together to find me a house, things fell into place really quite rapidly and unexpectedly.
I’m not alone here. In more direct ways, a lot of people I know living in central St Andrews have been helped by either their class or wealth. I know of some people living it up in an Airbnb for a whole semester, a more literal interpretation of buying your way out of a problem. Another has straight up bought a very central St Andrews property. Yet another two friends have left it to the last minute to bag spare rooms on both South Street and Market Street.
This is neither foreign nor new. Rather, this is an exacerbation of what already is. The ritual of passing flats from one set of private school kids to another is both pretty common and maybe the major way class is able to entrench itself deep into St Andrews life. Personally, I know maybe three or four groups of incoming second years doing this - all are on the receiving end of bargain apartments in central St Andrews.
For us, the privately educated upper middle class, this is a dangerous feedback loop. At a crucial juncture of our adult lives, where we are meant to, for the first time, do something critically important for and by ourselves, we get away with coasting. It teaches us that tacking close to those of our own class is more important than working hard or thinking deeply. In the tough moments in life, we are taught that it is the thing that will bail us out.
This means that those on the top rungs of the class ladder come to expect good things to come naturally to them with minimal effort on their own part. In a weird, twisted way, this is the cruel final advantage given to the Jontys, Tallulahs, and Alexanders of the world. Because, for many of the private school elite, it is not just undesirable, but essentially inconceivable to live in Dundee.
How University affects their longer-term prospects is by the by – it’ll all work out, for them it always has, so why would this time be different? What many don’t get is that for these people, the nexus of university is not as an institution, but as a social occasion. If Hugo and Henry can’t come around to share their amusing anecdotes about how drunk they got at the Henley Regatta, then what’s the point? And so, when faced with Dundee, they – we – squirm. Anything is done to avoid it. Everything is tried, and every string is pulled.
This was my personal experience of the housing crisis, although it is true to say it pales in comparison to those with less ideal outcomes. For me , I was lucky that this experience ended primarily as an opportunity for reflection. I realised that the system of support around the most privileged was too strong for any real harm to come to us. This goes against any reasonable interpretation of the principles of fairness or justice, and it is important for me, and others like me, to recognise that.
Illustration: Lauren McAndrew